Marc Cunningham (pictured) faced unique challenges and opportunities when choosing a career path, but he ultimately selected the insurance industry for its maturity and stability, as well as its attention to technology and innovation. That choice paid off for Cunningham, who, after 19-years in the industry, now holds a position of seniority as SVP, disability and absence management, at Crawford & Company.
While Cunningham climbed the insurance career ladder, he always made an effort to not only expand his own horizons and expertise, but also to encourage development and evolution in the wider industry. One topic he’s been vocal about over the years is the apathy and indifference he’s found towards racial inequity within the insurance industry. He told Insurance Business: “There may be less of the malicious and overt bias tendencies that you find in many other professions, but the lack of recognition and thoughtful action in the insurance industry has been just as harmful in many ways.”
However, change is afoot. In the fall of 2020, Insurance Business America published its inaugural ‘Leading the Change’ special report, which highlighted a group of individuals in the US insurance industry who are actively seeking to break down the racial barriers that have been in place for generations and re-write the make-up of the industry as one that is diverse, inclusive and open for all to thrive in.
From industry newcomers to those with decades-long careers, the 32 men and women picked as ‘Leaders of Change’ – which included Cunningham - were all nominated by their industry peers and selected by an independent advisory panel of industry insiders, who assessed each candidate’s achievements and contributions within their companies, as members and leaders of diversity-focused organizations, as mentors, and in their communities.
Cunningham said he was “humbled and honored” to be recognized as a ‘Leader of Change’ and he gave a shoutout to the countless individuals over the decades who have put themselves out there to foster greater D&I in insurance and beyond. He said he’s noticed progress in the industry over the last several years, but that more work needs to be done and shortfalls must be acknowledged.
“The prioritization of diversity and inclusion in recruiting, development and promotion proves that there are great intentions within the industry,” he commented. “However, to achieve the necessary results, we have to be honest about our current shortcomings and explicit in what we want to achieve. It’s great that D&I is becoming more visible and more focused, but the data tells us there’s still significant under-representation of people of color in the insurance industry, specifically black Americans.”
Crawford & Co, the world’s largest independent claims management company, has made efforts to incorporate D&I into its culture and everyday operations. Currently, Cunningham’s efforts are focused on an employee resource group (ERG) for people of color, called RISE. The group’s purpose is to “activate, engage and connect a racially diverse and multi-ethnic workforce by driving initiatives that maximize the professional development and advancement of RISE.” When asked whether the name RISE was a call to action, Cunningham said: “That’s exactly it. We want everyone standup and focus on this matter.”
RISE was one of Crawford’s earlier ERGs in the US, and it is one of the most popular. Cunningham said there were lots of individuals within the Crawford workforce who wanted to raise awareness about issues relating to D&I and put positive change into action. As a group, whether the individuals are people of color or allies of people of color, RISE members have been able to come together and network with a common purpose.
“RISE has also served individuals in enabling them to be their true authentic selves,” said Cunningham. “You often hear of individuals that sometimes act or operate in a way they feel they must in order to be heard, and possibly, to be accepted. There’s so much truth to that. From my own experience, I can tell you it can be draining and exhausting at times. When you’re constantly concerned with what someone may think, or you’re aligning with someone’s biases or preconceived notions, you tend to walk on eggshells. And so RISE, and other similar ERGs, allows individuals to express themselves and to know that they’re accepted, regardless of what they may think or what biases exist out there.”
In an organization as big as Crawford, “communication is critical” in order to make meaningful change around D&I, according to Cunningham. He praised the organization’s executive leadership for including D&I-related matters in their monthly company-wide communications, commenting: “It's extremely critical to see that your organization actually believes and breathes what you're trying to achieve as an individual. It makes it that much more attainable and often more successful over time.”
Crawford also pushes relevant content and education out via its intranet so that employees can view and absorb information at their own time and pace. Cunningham reflected: “When the killing of George Floyd took place, we received a lot of questions at RISE, like: ‘How do I get involved? What am I missing? What do I need to learn?’ and these came from everyone – allies and otherwise. RISE, and the individuals within RISE, played an important role in making sure we were there for our employees and that they understood where Crawford stood as a company. We also provided education and guidance for those who were looking for it.”
Cunningham, who is also an ally within the Crawford’s Women and Allies ERG, said the first step towards the gender, racial, ethnic and cultural diversity that the insurance industry seeks is to accept that biases – conscious and unconscious – exist. “Then, we need to prioritize addressing those biases with education and communication,” he added. “That’s a step in the right direction.”